In the tent, Grand Canyon

Pro Tips For Buying Sleeping Bags

In Backpacking, Gear Reviews, Paddling, Skills   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   4 Comments

By Michael Lanza

Finding a sleeping bag that’s right for you may be the most confusing gear-buying task. Getting the right one is critical to sleeping comfortably in the backcountry, and your bag could save your life in an emergency. But with the myriad choices out there, how do you tell them apart, beyond temperature rating and price? I’ve slept in many, many bags as a gear tester for two decades (and counting) for Backpacker and this blog, in all seasons, in temperatures from very mild to -30° F. (Mild is more pleasant.) In this article, I’ll share what I’ve learned about picking out a sleeping bag that will be ideal for your body and your adventures.

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4 Responses to Pro Tips For Buying Sleeping Bags

  1. Maddie   |  April 14, 2015 at 9:40 pm

    Hi Michael,

    Have you tried any of the ultralight quilts from smaller companies (Katabatic Gear, Nunatak, etc.)? They seem like a great alternative to three-season bags, especially for side and stomach sleepers who don’t usually use a hood. It’s a bit difficult to find reviews of them though, as they aren’t as widely used as mummy bags. I was just wondering if you’ve had any positive or negative experiences with them


  2. Forrest   |  October 25, 2013 at 10:00 am

    I think a full-length zipper is most-useful in the summer. It lets you open the bag fully and use it as a quilt instead. You’re right that being too warm is uncomfortable, and it makes you sweat. That moisture is bad no matter what kind of insulation you use.

    That seems to be the problem with getting wet. I’m knocking on wood as I type this, but I’ve never completely soaked my gear while fording a creek or capsizing a boat. It’s condensation and possibly sweat that are going to wet your bag, I think.

    I’m starting to experiment with carrying a lighter and less warm bag than most people would suggest, and making up the difference by sleeping in a down hoodie jacket and down booties. (Feathered Friends makes down socks with a removable boot shell.) You only use the bag when you’re sleeping, but the jacket and boots are useful in camp (stargazing for example) and sometimes when you stop on the trail. So I feel like this is probably a good way to split up the weight. But I need more trips to test this idea.

    • MichaelALanza   |  October 26, 2013 at 6:56 am

      Good points, Forrest. I agree about the full-length zipper being most useful in mild temperatures. I’ve rarely gotten my sleeping bag very wet, partly because I will use a waterproof dry bag-style stuff sack whenever I’m on a water-based trip or backpacking in a situation where I could get very wet. I like the Sea to Summit eVent Compression Dry Sacks for that:

      But in general, the more common reason a bag gets wet is from condensation, either on the interior tent walls or directly on your bag (from body heat), which occurs in colder temps, i.e., just above or below freezing. If it’s below freezing, you can conveniently knock the frost or ice off your bag first thing in the morning. If the condensation isn’t frozen, you can wipe surface dampness off the bag’s shell. But on prolonged, below-freezing trips, condensation can collect inside the bag’s insulation, so it becomes important to dry the bag in warm sunshine whenever possible. A synthetic bag is obviously better if the insulation gets damp, but they’re very bulky. The new types of water-resistant down bags are a good choice for long, cold trips.

      I also prefer to take as light a bag as I know I can get away with using on a trip, given the anticipated coldest temps, and using my extra clothes for added warmth as needed.

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